Gdansk reuse cluster report

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Reuse and recycling social enterprises in Europe: challenging exclusion by caring for the environment

From Gdansk social economy conference

In Gdansk on 28 June 2008, the RREUSE network (Reuse and Recycling Social Enterprises in the European Union) led the cluster Reuse and recycling social enterprises in Europe: challenging exclusion by caring for the environment. It was chaired by Mr Paolo Ferraresi (Founder and Administrator of RREUSE) and held in the framework of the main topic “Building European Cooperation Networks within the Social Economy”.


RREUSE is the European federation of social firms active in reuse and recycling. Today its members provide 42,000 full-time equivalent across Europe. Considering that in addition to that RREUSE occupies 110,000 volunteers and trainees, we can estimate that more than 150,000 people are involved in RREUSE’s initiatives. This means the collection of:

  • electronic appliances (WEEE): 150,000 tons collected every year
  • textile-clothing: 146,000 tons/year
  • bulky items: 265,000 tons/year
  • organic waste: 113,000 tons/year

This makes a total of more than 700,000 tons/year of material diverted from landfill which can be either reused or, when this is not feasible, recycled.

The importance of reuse in the social economy is highlighted by the fact that reuse is one of the main activities carried out by social enterprises. Non-profit organisations pioneered this sector even before environmental issues became trendy, as they currently are. The sector’s initiatives, which started a long time ago and aimed to create collecting schemes, are nowadays fairly professionalised structures offering hundreds of jobs and opportunities to marginalised groups. This because the reuse industry is labour intensive and requires a relatively small amount of capital.

Beside, reuse social firms offer a further benefit to society: people with low income can access goods from which they would otherwise be excluded. This because buying second hand is convenient since one can find good products at accessible price, often with guarantees.

The cluster meeting led by RREUSE tried to focus its attention on some challenging questions concerning the set up and the role reuse and recycling initiatives play in the social economy sector targeting the strategic question of a true sustainable development society. Concretely, discussion addressed subjects and related questions concerning:

  • legislation: are the national and European legislations an obstacle or an opportunity?
  • cultural challenge: how to build a culture of second hand?
  • raising awareness: how to increase awareness amongst citizens?
  • competition: how to tackle the competition from new items from emerging countries?
  • professionalisation and training: how to professionalise the social business and make it more profitable?
  • planning carefully: what should be avoided and what should be implemented?
  • networking: how to get several initiatives structured into a network?
  • exporting goods: how to trade goods with other countries?
  • quality and environmental management: what it can bring?

At the outset, Mr Ferraresi presented RREUSE and its mission and described the context of reuse activities in Europe and the obstacles social firms have to face as well as opportunities they might exploit.

Participant presentations

  • Flanders

Afterwards, Mr de Brone from 't rad - KVK took the floor. KVK (Koepel van Kringloopcentra is the umbrella organisation of reuse centres in the Flemish region of Belgium. Its objective is to federate and represent its 40 social enterprises at all relevant levels and to support them in increasing their professionalism.

Mr de Brone dealt with “Second hand furniture and household goods. The case of Flanders: how quality management and branding can boost the business”. He addressed the subject of collection, preparation and sale of furniture and household items. How does it work, how to motivate donors, how to work with regional and local authorities, how to boost the business. It also addressed the subject of branding and quality management in social firms.

  • Wallonia & Brussels

Then Mr Thibaut Jacquet from RESSOURCES took the floor and gave his presentation. RESSOURCES, constituted formally in February 1999, federates all social economy organisations in the Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions which collect, sort, repair, recycle and resell products at the end of their lifetime. It federates 52 social economy enterprises which employ 1,500 workers (full-time equivalent jobs). The network receives the support of ten environmental and social economy organisations. Its missions consist in federating firms by industrial sector and geographical area. The member companies of RESSOURCES operate in recovery and recycling and in prevention.

In particular, Mr Jacquet focused on the subject “Textiles: how to survive competition from Far East emerging countries”. He specifically dealt with the collection, sorting, preparation and sale of second-hand clothing. Furthermore, he pointed out the subject of export, the problems that the clothing business has to face and how to tackle them.

  • Austria

Scheduled in the agenda as the last but obviously not least, Mr Sepp Eisenriegler from Arge RepaNet (Austria) and President of the RREUSE Network took the floor to address his presentation and speech on “Repairing and selling electric and electronic appliances”.

RepaNet is a social enterprise network providing long-term employment for people with difficulties in the mainstream (first) labour market, such as disabled, low qualified, elderly and former long-term unemployed people. Its business activities are primarily the collection and reuse of used mobile phones in two partnership-projects with Caritas Austria, the Austrian national broadcast company and T-Mobile Austria. Since December 2005, about 700,000 mobile phones have been collected and either sold for reuse (80%) or for recycling (20%). Plans include activities in trash-design, collection and reuse of used IT equipment and building up new social enterprises in the field of reuse and recycling in Austria as well as in Slovakia.

Staff members are also on the board of the Austrian Association of municipal waste advisers and are / were involved in the EQUAL development partnership EcoNet Austria.

RREUSE's president presented the way to further develop the network's activities, and successively presented the experience of repair centres and talked about waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) management.

During his presentation Mr Eisenriegler showed a short but effective film concerning the possibility of reusing WEEE items thanks to the repair chain operted by people working in this sector who have a difficult past behind them and thus are at risk of further lagging behind in society if not given these opportunities.


Even though the programme scheduled ten minutes of question time after each presentation, we would like to stress the point there were so many inputs from the audience in the question time that was so useful and appreciated to go in-depth discussions without taking too much care of the schedule. The results on each discussion were thus even more effective. Concrete questions and - as we believe - practical answers and information were provided during these discussions.

RREUSE was the leader of the cluster. However we strongly perceived that the leader’s role in the cluster was held by the principle of information exchange and support among those who showed the willingness to co-operate more deeply in this sector.

We assess the meeting as very effective and concrete. Participation was high (17 organisations rather than the 10 scheduled). We much appreciated the inputs from those participants who gave Powerpoint presentations and speeches. Even if these presentations from the audience were not scheduled, we considered this deeper participation from the organisations taking part to the cluster as a further good feedback in evaluating the meeting and – more important – for the social economy sector we are involved in.

For the above mentioned reason, we strongly believe it is fair to mention the unscheduled presentations given during the Gdansk cluster:

  • An approach to sustainable development by Vincent Blanchard from the French organisation Les Ateliers du Bocage;
  • Social economy and environment protection by Marek Klimkowsky from the Polish organisation Association Disabled for the Environment EKON;
  • Recycling in the Emmäus Community by Gregorz Hajduk from EMAUS Poland.


Final remarks and considerations were made by Mr Eisenriegler. He further stressed the importance of collaboration between people and organisation committed to the social economy cause, specifically those involved in the thematic sector of reuse and recycling activities. He kindly invited all the participants to feel free in the near future to submit their further questions, considerations and requests to RREUSE through the contacts distributed during the cluster meeting and that we provide in this document.

In giving thanks to everybody for the participation Mr Eisenrielger closed the session.

We would like to draw attention to the fact that further discussions continued informally later on. This was an amazing result considering that thanks to the active participation from all the participants to the cluster we went far beyond (3 pm) the time scheduled for the session’s closing (1 pm).

RREUSE wishes again to kindly thank the Polish organisation for the opportunity to lead the cluster and to give thanks to the participants (list and contacts at the bottom of this page) at the meeting for the concrete and effective discussion topics put into the cluster. RREUSE is at your disposal for any further contact or question would arise.


RREUSE Central Office
Maison des Associations Internationales (MAI)
Washingtonstraat 40
B-1050 Brussels

Tel/Fax: +32 2 647 99 95
Email: mailto://


1. Paolo Ferraresi, RREUSE
2. Sepp Eisenriegler, RREUSE
3. Thibaut Jacquet, RESSOURCES – RREUSE
4. Joris de Brone, Center 't Raad (KVK) – RREUSE
5. Sergio Michelini, RREUSE
6. Noël Ramon, de Kringwinkel (Bruges, Belgium)
7. Dzemila Sulkiewicz-Nowicka, Bank Drugiej Ręki
8. Anna Kwiatkiewicz, Bank Drugiej Ręki
9. Marek Klimkowski, EKON Association
10. Zbigniew Drążkowski, EMAUS Lublinie
11. Gregorz Hajduk, EMAUS Krakow
12. Nick Eyre, Techsoup
13. Vincent Blanchard, Les Ateliers du Bocage
14. Janusz Firla, Grupa Cosparcia
15. Chris Ford
16. Karine Pflüger, Social Economy Europe
17. Drath Tadensz, Stow. Segm. Zad.

Notes by:
Sergio Michelini

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